By Maxim Mower
Beneath the misty haze of the bars, pills and heartbreak that Flower Shops documents, Ernest is still the same old starry-eyed romantic he's always been.
As the title track receives a Platinum certification, Ernest’s Flower Shops continues to age as well as Tennessee whiskey.
Ernest has always been a romantic, with his 2019 Locals Only project regaling listeners with a love story set against the backdrop of a tropical paradise. Largely inspired by trips to the Virgin Islands with his wife, it seemed he was sinking his feet firmly into the sand of the Gulf and Western sub-genre.
Flower Shops sees a departure from the sunny shores of Locals Only, the protagonist touching down on a rainy Nashville night and heading straight to the nearest neon light to drown his sorrows. The impending prospect of heartbreak is the driving force of the project, with tracks such as ‘Feet Wanna Run’ and ‘Comfortable When I’m Crazy’ examining the liminal space between clinging onto love and resigning yourself to the end.
Ernest has said that he can relate to many of the mistakes made by the main character in Flower Shops, but it is a much less autobiographical project than his first album. Ernest is happily married - the couple having welcomed a baby boy in 2021 - and we still catch glimpses of the loved-up dreamer from Locals Only on ‘Sucker for Small Towns’, ‘Classic’ and the Presley-inspired ‘Tennessee Queen’.
Although outnumbered by heartbreak songs, honeyed moments like these knit together to create a sense of warmth that pervades Flower Shops. No matter how far off the path our protagonist strays, we find ourselves rooting for him to find his way back. Ernest’s layered vocals and the production that cushions them ensure that, even when the character falls, the landing is always softened.
Perhaps the only criticism is that Ernest - who started off his music career as a rapper - misses an opportunity to take more sonic risks. Having said this, he does flirt with a more ambient, ethereal sound for the first 10 seconds of ‘Classic’, while ‘Did It With You’ ups the ante and takes off into a pop-rock anthem.
The project undoubtedly pivots around the steel-driven jewel in the crown - the Morgan Wallen-assisted title track. Ernest builds out this more traditional sound into an album that still feels as modern and relevant as any.
The charm lies in the fact that, beneath the misty haze of the bars, pills and heartbreak that Flower Shops documents, Ernest is still the same old starry-eyed romantic he's always been.
Flower Shops is out now via Big Loud Records